, Newburyport, MA


February 18, 2013

A shift in presidential tense


To say that he made Republican financiers and hacks nervous is comical. He made everyone nervous. But he called their “reform” bluff by forming the Progressive Party — aka “Blue Moose” — and ran against Republican incumbent President Taft in 1912.

Had Democrats nominated one of their hacks, as TR calculated, he’d have won. Instead, they ran another reformer, N.J. Gov. Woodrow Wilson.

Hence, rather than a third party cracking the two-party system, Democrats absorbed TR’s progressive Republicans.

By 1920 conservative Democrats felt betrayed by the Virginia-born and Georgia-bred Wilson — much like fundamentalists by the born-again and well-bred Carter 60 years later. They swung the USA into three roaring Republican routs.

And headlong into the Great Depression. Who but FDR could better identify the Democrats with Main Street and Republicans with Wall Street?

Still, by clinging to Jim Crow’s segregation, Dixiecrats ceded what we now call “inclusiveness” to Republicans.

In 1948 Republicans might have cashed in with headlines already hot off a Chicago press: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Overlooked was a 37-year-old upstart Minneapolis mayor who hammered civil rights into the reluctant Democrats’ party platform. Yes, Dixiecrats split for a third party bid behind Strom Thurmond, but disillusioned progressives returned.

Karma? That same man, Hubert Humphrey, would lose a presidential bid 20 years later to a “brilliantly Machiavellian scheme that became known as Nixon’s Southern Strategy.”

Hello Spiro Agnew!

Curtis Wilkie’s memoir, “Dixie,” adds that Richard Nixon’s infamous 1972 re-election campaign included two Supreme Court nominations of Southern segregationists, a deliberately doomed dual stunt to turn Dixiecrats into Republicans.

Last year Rick Santorum had them in mind, as have both Ron and Rand Paul, when he cited 1965 — the Civil Rights Act, specifically public accommodations and employment opportunity — as the year America lost its way.

Last month, when the Republican-controlled House delayed funds for Hurricane Sandy relief, the geographical divide sharpened the political.

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